So Glorify God in Your Body

Here is the devotion, adapted from a sermon by Rev. John T. Pless that I will be sharing at the Annual Meeting of Lutherans For Life of SD. The text is Epistle for Epiphany 3 that many of our congregations will be using on Sunday, January 15, 2012: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In my ten plus years as a pastor, I’ve stood out in the cemetery many times at the open grave for the Committal of the body at the end of the Service of Christian Burial. With mourning family members and friends gathered around, I place my hand on the head of the casket and recite the following words: “May God the Father, who created this body; may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”

I know, the words for the committal at a Christian funeral sound like an odd way to begin an opening devotion for a Lutherans For Life meeting. But think about it. The way in which we deal with the body of the deceased says much about how we view the sanctity of all human life. The committal service is not just about “bringing closure,” as psychologists might suggest; but rather, emphasizes the value of the human body. At that most sober and somber moment, those words proclaim the truth about the body of the believer: it is a body created by the hands of the Maker of heaven and earth. It is a body purchased and redeemed with the blood of Christ. It is a body hallowed by the washing of the water with the Word.

It is not a leftover carcass to be tossed aside. Quite the contrary, your body is given by God and is properly rendered back to Him. The body brought into life at the time of your conception is yours. It is uniquely you—just as much as your soul is uniquely you! Yet it does not belong to you. You did not create yourself. You didn’t even ask to be born. Your body is a gift—it is among the very best gifts of God. But it is a gift corrupted by sin and the consequences of a fallen world. It will break down and eventually die.

How we treat the body at the time of death says much about our view of life. Rather than recognize it as the good gift of God, some may view the body as a shell that contains the “real you.” Others may treat the body as an instrument of hedonism, a plaything for personal pleasure. Such low views of the body lead to pragmatism. If the shell is empty, or the toy of the flesh breaks down, why not look for ways to be relieved of the burden? Enter abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia. If we can’t finally master the body, if we can’t control the inconvenience or suffering, let’s put an end to it at the time and place of our own choosing. Unborn babies will be discarded and it will be lauded as a “woman’s right.” People committing suicide will be said “to take their own lives,” as though it were theirs to take. Anything goes to be done with the burden of the body.

The body. What do we do with the body? That’s a question faced not just at the time of death, but here and now as we live in the body. And our answer says much about our understanding of God and who we are in relation to Him.

When the spirit of the age is mistaken for the Holy Spirit, the body will be thought of as incidental to spirituality. Such was the case with the super spirituality of the Corinthians, who apparently thought that something as bodily as sexual intercourse could not affect life in the Spirit. Freedom in the Spirit translated into a life unhampered by restrictions, boundaries, or limitations. Homosexual practice, prostitution, and even incest were fair game.

Perhaps they reasoned that the bounds of Christian liberty were wide, expansive, and permissive since “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both.” It could be that they mistakenly thought that the Gospel is a message of liberation from the body. That’s what Greek philosophy taught, after all—that the spirit was good, while the body was evil. Death, then, they believed—as do those many today—meant a welcome escape from the constraints and limitations of the body.

But those faulty views didn’t just stay in Corinth. They didn’t cease in Paul’s lifetime. This mistaken idea of the separation of the spiritual from the physical infects our age, too. Even you and me—Lutherans For Life—we’re susceptible to this as well. How often do we picture heaven as merely a spiritual existence? How often do we speak of death and the departing of the soul to be with the Lord as the pinnacle of our existence, all the while forgetting the wonderful reality we confess weekly in the creeds “of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” in that glorified body?

But this idea of spiritualizing the faith does not just cloud our view of death and eternal life. It has also infected a significant portion of those who confess themselves to be Christians when it comes to matters of living here and now.

“The glue that binds us together,” we are told, “is the Gospel, Baptism, and mission. Something as mundane and private as a sexual ethic should not get in the way of these!” “We need an ethic that is more relational and less ‘physicalist’” was the argument advanced in the debates leading up to one church body’s adoption two years ago of novel policies regarding human sexuality that run counter to the sacred Scriptures. “It is no business of ours,” they say, “what someone does in the privacy of their own bedroom or who gets married ‘as long as they love one another’ and are ‘in a committed relationship.’”

Paul throws all that Gnostic gobbledygook and New Age nonsense aside: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body… Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? ... Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”

What you do with your body does matter! It’s a matter of ownership. You can’t take the body that belongs to Christ—bought with His precious blood and washed by His Spirit in Holy Baptism—and join that body to a prostitute. To do so, Paul says, is to sin against your own body. Hence, he says, “Flee from sexual immorality,” for every other sin a person commits is outside of his body—but this sin is against your body—the body that God has created, redeemed, and sanctified.

Christ will not have the body that belongs to Him rendered unclean, desecrated by fornication, and enslaved by a fleshly union to one who is not your spouse. Christ Jesus would not have you live in bondage to another lord, for He has made you His own. He has “purchased and won [you] from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that [you] may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

Contrary to what many say: This is not overly restrictive; this is liberating. Left to your own devices, you would still be in bondage to your sinful nature, to the power of the devil, and to the pressures of the world. And try as hard as you might, you could never free yourself. You could never live the perfect righteous life that God’s holy Law demands. You would face and eternity of God’s wrath and condemnation.

But God, who created you and formed you, loved you so much that He would not leave you in your sin. He sent His Son Jesus Christ as your substitute. Jesus took on flesh—the eternal Son of God assumed a human body, conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly—loving God above all things and neighbor as Himself. He suffered and died, bearing the full penalty for your sins, as He willing gave that human body to be nailed to the cross in your place. Three days later, that body rose from the dead, the firstfruits of those that have fallen asleep. Now ascended into heaven, Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, still with that glorious resurrected body. Though even now, He keeps His promise to be with you always—coming to you in His Supper with His very body and blood. That’s how highly God views the human body—He wasn’t ashamed to take on one for Himself!

Always remember: Your body is a gift. It was created and formed by God. It has been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. It has been sanctified as the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is neither evil nor irrelevant, has but justified, sanctified, and marked by God’s triune name. It is not to be dismissed and discarded when it becomes burdensome or inconvenient, but protected and cared for in life and shown honor in death. It will be raised again on the Last Day to live in glory with Christ for all eternity in the new heaven and the new earth.

So, in life and in death, glorify God in your body. Amen.

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